How “I Saw the TV Glow” taught Justice Smith to let go and accept that 'I’m enough as I come'

Smith and costar Brigette Lundy-Paine also share their interpretations of the A24 film's mind-bending conclusion.

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Warning: The following article contains spoilers about I Saw the TV Glow, now in theaters.

Pink Opaque hive, rise up!

A24's I Saw the TV Glow (now in theaters) explores the transformative power of stories, particularly the ones we tune into on late-night cable, through the relationship between teenage besties Owen (Justice Smith) and Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine). The psychological horror thriller follows the pair as they bond over the supernatural television show, The Pink Opaque. Owen and Maddie identify so much with the characters from the series that they slowly become unable to distinguish between reality and the fictional world of the show. Director Jane Schoenbrun wrote the film in the early days of their transition, and its story about fighting to become your most authentic self serves as a thought-provoking allegory for that experience.

"This was my attempt to capture the ambivalence and overwhelming joy and possibility, but also things that feel sinister and terrifying about an egg crack — the moment when, as a queer or trans person, you understand that you aren't yourself and that you need to become something else to conjure that magic that was maybe there in childhood and maybe there in these other moments in life," Schoenbrun previously told Entertainment Weekly.

I Saw the TV Glow explores some complicated themes in wholly original ways, but Smith and Lundy-Paine's performances ground the ambitious storytelling with pathos and heart. Below, EW caught up with the actors about developing their characters' tight bond, that powerful bleacher scene, and why Owen doesn't go with Maddy in the end.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Your characters share such a unique and tight bond. How did you develop that chemistry together?

BRIGETTE LUNDY-PAINE: We met a couple of days before we started shooting, and we both had pretty strong ideas about what our characters were. We became friends when making the movie and that informed the dynamic in our comfort with each other. We had a lot of fun prancing and playing together. By the time we get to those last scenes, the depth of their relationship is really clear.

JUSTICE SMITH: A lot of Owen’s and Maddie’s relationship is Owen being really intimidated by Maddie then she disappears. Their relationship is on this weird spectrum of "I don’t really know you, but I’m so drawn to you in the same way I’m drawn to this television show because you represent another half of me."

<p>Spencer Pazer/A24</p> Justice Smith in 'I Saw the TV Glow.'

Spencer Pazer/A24

Justice Smith in 'I Saw the TV Glow.'

Do either of you have a scene you share that stands out to you?

SMITH: That bleacher scene. That was a lot of fun to shoot.

LUNDY-PAINE: Really fun to shoot. I always think of it as the scene that holds the tone of what you think the movie is going to be. People are going to think this is a teen angst classic film, and that’s the one scene closest to that reality. I love the way Jane directed it because they kept directing us to give more space between the lines and saying it’s almost like you’re having two separate conversations. It’s so tense, and there’s so much that’s not being said. It’s definitely the most vulnerable scene between them.

Maddy and Owen bond over their love of The Pink Opaque. What show or movie has bonded you with someone important in your life?

SMITH: We bonded over Spongebob.

LUNDY-PAINE: Who are we?

SMITH: Which characters are we?

LUNDY-PAINE: Yeah. You’re Spongebob and I’m Patrick.

SMITH: Everyone always says I’m Spongebob, but I do feel more like Patrick.

Brigette, you act opposite two actors playing Owen. How did it feel to build the Maddy and Owen dynamic twice?

LUNDY-PAINE: It was nice because I got to work with Ian Foreman first, so I got to know the soul of this character and the purity of Owen before teen anxiety set in. Then, when we got to work together, I was totally blown away. The bleacher scene was the first time we were together. Justice has such focus and you knew how to move with the camera in a way that informed the way we interacted with each other.

The end of the film sees Owen living his life apart from Maddy with a couple of really powerful and memorable scenes. What stands out to you from Owen’s final scenes?

SMITH: The birthday scene was hard for me because I really saw this whole as this powerful character epic and was like, “Oh, I’m gonna cut my teeth on this.” This film actually helped me a lot in my own relationship with my art and how obsessed I was with quality, which is an extrinsic motivation rather than the intrinsic motivation to do what I love. We know when you take the fulfillment of something and put it outside of yourself it makes it less fun and impactful. This film taught me a lot about trusting myself and letting go. Accepting that I’m enough as I come, which is the antithesis of Owen’s arc. I remember when I first read it, I was gonna listen to music, do my research, analyze what he’s feeling. When it came to the day, I decided to do whatever comes and honor the story beat. That’s what my job is. When I did it, I just thought, “That’s what is gonna go in the movie” and getting validation that that was enough was powerful in my own career.

<p>A24</p> Justice Smith and Brigette Lundy-Paine in 'I Saw the TV Glow.'


Justice Smith and Brigette Lundy-Paine in 'I Saw the TV Glow.'

Why do you think Owen doesn’t go with Maddy? What could Maddy have done to get him to believe her?

LUNDY-PAINE: I don't think Maddie thought that she was going to get him underground. She was trying her best, but you see it when she’s watching him walk away.

SMITH: When you’ve committed yourself for so long to assimilation, it’s really scary to jump to the unknown of authenticity. It’s a lose-lose situation. If he’s his true self, he’ll suffer pain, but if he stays in the lie, he’s suffering and dying. It’s a difficult choice that Owen has to make. Is it worth risking everything you’ve built in order to be free? We actually shot a different ending and I love this better. The original ending we shot was a little bit more explicit about Owen getting out and Jane decided to cut it short to leave it a bit more ambiguous that now Owen has irrefutable proof that what Maddy said was right. He’s seen it within himself literally, but he is so accustomed to apologizing for his existence, so he goes back to that. Maybe now that he has proof, he’ll finally do what calls him.

LUNDY-PAINE: Free himself.

SMITH: Yeah.

LUNDY-PAINE: I don’t think it’s over for him. There’s still time, and if the movie ended with Owen breaking free and claiming his autonomy, then it would cut the audience some slack. That’s not really the point. Every time I’ve watched it, I leave with a sense of urgency, and that’s what is so impactful about it.

SMITH: It's kind of a cautionary tale. Here’s a metaphorical representation of what happens when you don't [choose to be free]. Yeah, that's more eye-opening than something that's tied up nicely in a bow.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

I Saw the TV Glow is in theaters now.

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Read the original article on Entertainment Weekly.